Silent Circle Challenges Skype, Telecoms With Encrypted Calling

Blackphone maker's affordable encrypted calls could appeal to security-conscious businesses.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

July 11, 2014

3 Min Read
Silent Circle's Blackphone

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Silent Circle on Thursday took aim at Microsoft's Skype and other online communications services by offering an alternative that it claims is more secure and more affordable.

The company, co-founded by one of the more credible groups of security professionals in the industry -- Mike Janke, Phil Zimmermann, and Jon Callas -- introduced Global Encrypted Calling Plans for its Blackphone, a mobile phone specially designed for security that began shipping last month.

"Our newly expanded Global Encrypted Calling Plans are up to 50% less expensive than many of the telecom's existing plans, but our coverage offers about 45 more countries than they do; and oh, by the way it's encrypted to the public switch telephone network," explained CEO Mike Janke in a blog post. "That is something no other company offers in the marketplace today."

Since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden last year leaked documents revealing the scope of NSA intelligence gathering, the security offered by communications service providers like Skype has been shown to be less than secure. A 2013 memo from the agency revealed that its Prism program could bypass Skype encryption.

[Learn how NSA surveillance fallout is affecting tech firms' growth: In Fog Of Cyberwar, US Tech Is Caught In Crossfire.]

Despite assurances from the US government that its extensive data gathering is necessary for national security, businesses in the US and elsewhere have been struggling to come to grips with an online environment so heavily surveilled. Some companies have chosen to move data outside the US, as if datacenters elsewhere in the world are somehow beyond the reach of the NSA, other countries' intelligence services, and hackers. But it's clear to anyone concerned about security that more robust tools and services will be required to reach an acceptable level of security.

After last year, many organizations realized they should reevaluate the adequacy of their privacy and security controls. On the consumer side of the market, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo have all moved to encrypt their email in transit, though Snowden in a March interview at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, urged the adoption of end-to-end encryption.

Silent Circle sees an opportunity to win business customers by offering strong mobile security, a strategy that worked for BlackBerry not so long ago. Janke said the mobile industry, with its high roaming charges, is ripe for disruption. One of his company's Fortune 100 customers in Zurich, he says, projects savings of $38,000 a month using Silent Circle's calling plan, in addition to benefiting from improved security.

Janke dismissed Skype as a "wiretap-friendly communication tool" and noted that "Skype is banned from being used in many of the Fortune 1000 companies and shunned by anyone expecting some level of privacy."

Silent Circle's Global Encrypted Calling Plans start at $12.95 a month, which includes use of its mobile apps, Silent Phone, Silent Text, and Silent Contacts. Blackphone lists for $629 but is currently sold out.

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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